Juddmonte International Stakes (British Champions Series) (Group 1) 1m2f | 3yo+ | ITV/RTV
Nobody has won more runnings of York's most prestigious race than Sir Michael Stoute, a master with middle-distance horses who can call on the world's best in Crystal Ocean.
He was second to Enable in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot last time, but the weight he afforded the mighty mare and her winning distance forced official handicappers to still regard him as superior.
Crystal Ocean wins the Prince of Wales's Stakes, photo Liesl King
There is no Enable in the field, which means the classy five-year-old, who broke his Group 1 duck in the Prince of Wales's at Royal Ascot, heads the betting.
Sir Michael Stoute's International winners
Stoute also fields Regal Reality, a fine third to Enable in the Coral Eclipse, but only fourth in the Sky Bet York Stakes last time.
"It's a tough race," said the Newmarket trainer, who is chasing his seventh strike in it. "We go there with two nice horses. They have prepared well and we hope for the best.
"We're happy with Crystal Ocean or we wouldn't have sent him, while Regal Reality ran very well in the Eclipse – it was a good, solid run actually. The ground was too soft for him last time. The surface will be more suitable and we'll learn more about him."
Crystal Ocean pros and cons
' The world's best horse and ultra-reliable
X Had some battles and his latest v Enable was his toughest
Comedy out to be a hit
In Enable, John Gosden had the strongest trump card of all but he has decided to play that in Thursday's Darley Yorkshire Oaks, so St James's Palace Stakes second King Of Comedy represents the summer's hottest stable.
He will be partnered by Frankie Dettori, riding a Group 1 wave and aiming to draw clear of the legendary Lester Piggott as the International's most successful rider.
Frankie's famous five in the International
"It's been the plan to come here ever since he finished second in the St James's Palace Stakes," said Gosden, who won the race with Roaring Lion 12 months ago.
"He told us he wanted to go further that day as he had when he won the Heron Stakes and he's been pleasing us at home.
"Obviously it's a good race with the top older horse in there and it will be a stern test for the three-year-old's as it should be."
King Of Comedy pros and cons
' Has two exceptional cornermen in Gosden and Dettori
X Needs to prove stamina and ability
O'Brien three-year-old's aim to step up
Darley July Cup ace Ten Sovereigns aside, Investec Derby third Japan might just be Ballydoyle's premier three-year-old and convincing victories in the King Edward VII Stakes and Grand Prix de Paris showed just why.
Stablemate Circus Maximus, only sixth in the Derby but successful in the St James's Palace Stakes and then second in the Qatar Sussex Stakes, is, however, rated 1lb higher.
Victory for either would level their trainer Aidan O'Brien with Stoute's haul of six.
He said: "Japan is in good form. He's back to a mile and a quarter but he came out of his win in France well and we're looking forward to him.
"Circus Maximus goes back up in trip. What he loves is a stiff mile, which he got at Ascot, and Goodwood was just a little bit quick for him. We always thought he'd be comfortable at a mile and a quarter and he seems to be in good form."
Japan pros and cons
' The mount of Ryan Moore, who was purring about him at Royal Ascot
X Impressive over 1m4f, but does he have the gears for this step back in trip?
Circus Maximus pros and cons
' Done nothing wrong and 1m2½f could be perfect
X Readily dismissed by Too Darn Hot last time and may have pinched the St James's Palace under an inspired ride
Elarqam will need to finish in the first three to repay the £75,000 Hamdan Al Makotum shelled out to supplement him for this last week.
However, the son of Frankel, whose dam Attraction won the 1,000 Guineas in 2004, has won three of his five starts this term - form that gives him a fighting chance of pocketing some of the £1,062,500 prize.
"Sheikh Hamdan decided he'd like to see him run against the best, so from that point of view it was an easy decision to supplement," said the owner's racing manager Angus Gold.
"We know he stays a mile and a quarter, but who knows if he might go further in due course and he handles the ground, but I don't think he'd mind any ease. It's more a question of the class of the opposition."
Elarqam, a winner over course and distance in the York Stakes a month ago, suffered a pelvic injury last year, but has enjoyed a clear run this season.
"He looks a completely different horse from last year and he's matured," Gold added. "He's not as heavy as he used to be, he's more athletic this term. He had niggling problems last year, but hopefully all those are behind us. He's run consistently this year and last time was probably a career-best effort, but hopefully all those are behind us. He's run consistently this year and last time was probably a career-best effort, but this is a big step up."
Elarqam pros and cons
' Recent York Stakes success was a personal best
X This is much deeper and he has 9lb to find with Crystal Ocean
Lord Glitters has already given his camp a never-to-be-forgotten moment in 2019 when he won the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot and he aims for an even more memorable success stepping out of the miling division.
A minor winner over 1m2f when trained in France, the son of Whipper was not disgraced in fifth in the Sussex Stakes last time, but could not match the turn of foot displayed by Too Darn Hot.
"Harold Kirk was underbidder for Willie Mullins when we bought him and they clearly had hurdling in mind for him; it could be that we've been running him over the wrong trip all this time!" trainer David O'Meara joked.
"We are under no illusions it's a tough race and he's got quite a bit to find with the likes of Crystal Ocean, but he's in great form and the fact he's won at York is another tick in his box. The Sussex Stakes wasn't run at an overly strong pace last time and he needs an end-to-end gallop. There should be enough pace on."
Far East heroine Deirdre caused a 20-1 surprise in the Qatar Nassau Stakes at Goodwood this month, so perhaps King George sixth Cheval Grand should not be dismissed readily – especially if the 2017 Japan Cup winner encounters his favoured fast ground.
"Of course we're dreaming," said Yusuke Oe, assistant trainer to Yasuo Tomomichi. "The International is a fantastic race at a very nice meeting, so if he could win we'd be very happy - it'd be amazing. We want to follow Deirdre.
"The ground was a problem in the King George as he prefers firm ground and it was too soft for him. He's been training well since and has settled in; he's getting better and is used to being in Britain, so we're happy.
"A mile and a half is a better distance for him, so this will be a little short, but I don't think it will be much of a problem, as long as the ground is quick."
York's growing reputation as a horses-for-courses venue may point punters the way of Thundering Blue, a 50-1 third in this race last year whose Knavesmire form reads 1213.
Trained by David Menuisier for the enthusiastic Clive Washbourn, the talented grey has yet to ignite this term.
"I don't like to make excuses but we knew he would need his first couple of races to find full fitness because he's lazy at home and will only do what he wants to do," Menuisier said.
"He knows the gallops by heart and doesn't really exert himself.
"He ran in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last time and it was probably a mistake because it was a typical French race in that they went slow and in snatches. He likes a regular gallop when he can use his turn of foot, so I would draw a line through that.
"He's more suited by Group 1 races against very strong opposition because they tend to go a fair clip and that's when he can show his true colours. We know he loves York and he has never run a bad race there. The long straight gives him time to find his gears and he loves the challenge of passing horses one by one."
The trainer, delighted to have Jason Watson - "he has nerves of steel" - on board, added: "I would give anything in the world for him to win a Group 1 because he so deserves it – he's beaten so many Group 1 winners in his career. I'm not delusional, and it may not be in this, but I don't think he's lost any of his ability and hopefully he will remind everyone he's a very good horse."